The title of caregiver doesn't come with a job description. You do as much you can, as well as you can, as long as you can. You juggle many roles, from chef and nurse to advocate, companion, chauffeur, and more. It may not be what you planned, but it's where you are right now. And it's likely changed your life in many ways.
Finding strength as a caregiver means more than staying strong physically. Yes, it's important to take care of your body, since you may need to bend, lift, and do other tasks that can leave you feeling tired and sore.
Personal strength is just as important. Taking care of a loved one with cancer, Parkinson's, dementia, or another medical or mental illness can be gruelling, especially over the long haul. You may feel, or try to ignore, a number of emotions, like anger, anxiety, depression, fear, boredom, jealousy, loneliness, or guilt.
To bounce back day after day, it’s crucial to pay attention to your own mental and spiritual needs. Some simple steps and a change in thinking can help lessen the load of caregiving. Pick what feels right to you.
Set boundaries. What roles are you willing to take on? Where do you draw the line? It may feel kind to say yes to everything, but that can quickly turn into resentment. Think about what you're comfortable doing and what you're not. Make your limits clear and stick to them.
Be gentle with yourself. There's no rulebook for your situation. You're going to experience successes, failures, and a range of emotions. Underneath any anger, guilt, and depression you might feel is usually a lot of grief. Find a friend or therapist who can listen and help.
Forgive. If the person you're caring for has caused you pain in the past, you may hold grudges. That's normal, but it can make the tough job of caregiving even tougher. Consider forgiveness to let go and move forward in a positive direction.
Follow your faith. When you spend a lot of time dealing with illness, it can shake your faith. It’s OK to doubt and to question. That’s part of the journey toward acceptance. If you follow a religion or spiritual path, keep connected to it as much as you can. If getting to regular services feels like too much, take time for daily ritual or prayer, even if for only few minutes. If you don’t practice religion, find faith in what you believe and meaning in the care you provide.
Change it up. It's hard to be the caregiver all the time. Step outside your role with your loved one when you can. Find an activity you can do together that's fun for both and changes your dynamic, even for an hour.
Reset your thinking. One of the few things you can control is your own attitude and perspective. As a result of being a caregiver, have you learned something new about yourself? Deepened a relationship with a family member or friend? Focusing on the positive aspects of caregiving helps balance out the challenges.
Seek support. Though you may not feel it, you are not alone. Many others know and feel the same things you do. Seek out a support group that works with your schedule: It provides emotional support, education, and connection.
Learn and grow. Instead of beating yourself up for a mistake, focus on what you can learn from it. "How can I do better in the future?" makes you stronger than "I should've known better."
Feel your feelings. You can't boost resilience if you ignore your emotions. Find safe places to express your feelings -- a friend, therapist, or journal -- and let them fly.
Use affirmations. Pick one for the day, week, or month. Say it to yourself, set a reminder on your smartphone, or write it down on notes and put them in your car or on the bathroom mirror. Every time you take in positive information about yourself, it builds that resilience muscle. Try saying:
- I am enough.
- I love myself and accept I will have good days and bad days.
- I’m not alone.
- I’m thankful for my loved ones.
Remember to laugh. Give yourself permission to find the humorous parts of caregiving and laugh when the mood strikes. A little joy goes a long way. It's also a good reminder that everything doesn't have to be serious all the time.